All individuals have the ability to learn and attain self-fulfillment, however many young people are at risk of failing to achieve their academic potential. Gifted students are one group of exceptional learners who are not normally considered at risk for academic failure. However, the underachievement of academically gifted students is an area of concern and frustration for many parents, teachers, and counselors. Why do some students, who seem capable of outstanding performance, fail to realize their potential? What causes some gifted students to underachieve in school? Can we predict which gifted students are at the greatest risk for underachievement? What can we do to reverse a student’s academic underachievement?
While there are many factors that contribute to achievement, students who are achievementoriented appear to exhibit three key perceptions and a behavior. First, and foremost, they find value in their school experience. School is meaningful. They enjoy what they are doing or believe that what they are doing will produce beneficial outcomes. Second, they believe that they have the skills to be successful. Third, they trust their environment and expect that they can succeed in it. When students have positive attitudes in each of these three areas, they are more likely to produce self-regulated behavior. Self-regulated learners set realistic expectations and implement appropriate strategies for academic success. Some of these four components may play a stronger influence than others, but overall, we believe that achievement-oriented individuals possess some combination of them.
Valuing Academic Tasks
First and foremost, students must value academics. “When students value a task, they will be more likely to engage in it, expend more effort on it, and do better on it” (Wigfield, 1994, p. 102). Students who do not value the goals of school do not find any purpose in what they are learning, they don’t see any pay-off for learning it, and they’re not interested in learning it, so they turn off and tune out. The following are some minor modifications that will increase the task value of activities for students:
Encourage and promote your students’ interests and passions
Help students to see beyond the immediate activity to the long-term outcomes. A school assignment may seem unimportant, but pursuing a dream career may be an outcome that your student is willing to strive toward. Parents and educators may wish to share how they use various skills learned in school in pursuit of their career choices.
Help students to set short and long-term academic goals. Small, short-term goals work better for younger students. It is essential that the goals are meaningful to students. Talk with them about possible goals. Remember, goals that adults value may have little meaning to children.
Students are more likely to become engaged with material that is optimally challenging. Ensure that all students are challenged (but not frustrated) by classroom activities.
Young people must also believe they have the skills to perform the task. Self-efficacy refers to individuals’ judgment of their capacity to perform specific activities. The perceptions students have about their skills influence the types of activities they select, how much they challenge themselves at those activities, and the persistence they exhibit once they are involved in the activities (Bandura, 1986).
Students need to believe that they have the skills to be successful. This can be accomplished by helping them recognize the skills that they have developed. Two factors need to be present: First, they must believe they have the skills to do well and second, they must be aware that they didn’t always have those skills (the skills were something they developed).
The way we compliment young people has an impact on how successful they perceive themselves to be. It is important to be specific with comments. A general compliment such as “Good work” does not carry the weight of something more specific such as “You really know your threes times tables.” The latter provides more information about what has been performed well. The student will likely reflect on the comment and think, “Yes, I am good at threes.” Students are able to better cognitively appraise their progress when feedback is specific or when we’ve helped them be aware of specific things they do well. Of course, compliments must be genuine and earned. Complimenting children for tasks that they did not perform well or for unchallenging tasks can be counterproductive and diminish their trust. In addition to helping students recognize the skills they have, you need to help them understand that their abilities are not strictly innate. Dweck (1975) demonstrated that students who believe abilities can be developed and are not fixed are more likely to attempt challenging tasks and persevere more in the face of difficulties than students who believe abilities are innate. When we discuss a student’s achievement with him/her, we ought to mention specific skills he/she has developed by drawing attention to the skill and to its development. We need to balance the role effort and ability play. This can easily be accomplished by recognizing the skill as something the student developed (without drawing undue attention to the effort used). For example, “Look at how well you’ve learned your threes tables” is more effective than “You are good at your threes tables.” The word “learned” indicates that this is a skill that didn’t always exist and implies that future skills can also be acquired.
Students who view their environment as friendly and one that will provide positive outcomes are more likely to demonstrate achievement-oriented behavior. It is not enough to be confident that they have certain skills, they must expect that they will succeed if they put forth effort. Rathvon (1996) hypothesized that, “The underachiever’s failure to assume responsibility arises from his unconscious belief that his own efforts do not affect the events or individuals in his world” (p. 66). Student’s perceptions of the friendliness of the environment may or may not be accurate. The first step is to determine whether students’ perceptions are distorted. If they are not, then changes need to be made in the environment. These changes must be implemented with input from the student. For example, if a child feels it is too noisy to study at home, ask the child what needs to be done to make it quiet enough. It may be as simple as asking, “What would it take for you do well?” Students must be involved in helping find solutions to the environmental roadblocks they perceive.
The factors of task value, self-efficacy, and environmental perceptions are critical to being motivated. But being motivated may not be sufficient. Students must be engaged in and complete the task. They may feel that math is important, believe that they can do well in mathematics, and like their school and teachers, but they do not follow through and execute the math assignment.
Many gifted students may lack the self-management strategies of time management and study skills. Because gifted students often progress through the early years of school without being challenged, they sometimes fail to develop the self-management skills that other students master. In the early grades, good memory and fast processing skills can compensate for note taking and other study skills. Often, educators attempt to teach students study skills before students need those skills to be successful. This process usually frustrates both the teachers and the students. Self-regulatory skills are more likely to be internalized when they are needed to solve the problem at hand. A solution to the problem is to provide gifted students with an academically challenging curriculum early, and throughout their school careers. Another aspect of self-regulation involves setting personal standards. Some students may feel that what they are doing is “good enough.” If students haven’t been academically challenged in the past, they may believe they can achieve satisfactory results with very little effort. Gifted students may also underachieve to hide their need for perfectionism. The third category of self-regulation is self-monitoring. These skills include monitoring distractibility, practicing delayed gratification, and awareness of performance avoidance. t Encourage students to pursue excellence, rather than perfection. Adults can model acceptance of their mistakes while striving for excellence. Gifted students should not be expected, or expect, to complete every task, in every area, with 100% accuracy. t Help students plan tasks. This serves two functions. First, it develops a mindset that the task is doable. Young people are often reluctant to begin a task because they are unsure how to begin. Second, it minimizes the unknown. Through planning, children can visualize a task coming to fruition. t Help students set realistic expectaions. This involves setting goals that are difficult enough to be challenging, yet not so difficult as to be unachievable and discouraging. Learning occurs best when new material cannot be mastered without assistance, but can be mastered with minor direction from someone more knowledgeable (Vygotsky, 1939/1962). Much that motivates young people is still a mystery. The suggestions presented in this article provide insights into some strategies that promote achievement-orientation. Adults can support students and encourage them to pursue their interests and passions. With a little effort, educators and parents can help students to see that what they are doing serves a purpose, to believe they have the skills to perform well, to trust that their environments will encourage their productivity, and to set realistic expectations for themselves. Early encouragement of achievement-oriented behaviors is a major step toward helping young people lead productive and fulfilling lives.
This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Del Siegle and D. Betsy McCoach. It includes a summary of tips and strategies on helping underachieving students to become achievement-oriented individuals. The authors include a discussion of the psychology and rationale for each tip.
From The Collection Magazine
by William Hauptman
Photo by Les Anderson
Colorado Assoc.of Gifted & Talented
FAUN G. HAUPTMAN
Broker Associate with Kentwood Cherry Creek
Faun grew up in the Denver area and has an undergraduate degree in Public Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Finance from the University of Denver (DU). Faun has extensive experience in public relations. She started her career with Hill and Knowlton in Los Angeles and worked with some of the nation’s most visible luxury goods accounts including Patek Philippe, Stolichnaya Vodka, Haagen Dazs, and the Bermuda Department of Tourism. After leaving the public relations field and receiving her Masters Degree in Finance, Faun worked in investor relations. Through that experience she developed a keen set of skills working with professionals on Wall Street and publications such as the Wall Street Journal. Faun is a product of the outstanding Cherry Creek School District and has many years of first-hand knowledge of some of Denver’s most elite residential property. She is one of the top producing Realtors focusing on Distinctive Properties in Denver, West Denver and the Foothills.
"Faun gets the job done! We met her while we were in the process of relocating from out of state during the most difficult real estate market in history. Our transaction was complicated,, but she did not give up. She kept her sense of humor and managed to find us a beautiful home. Faun is creative,, tenacious and not afraid of challenge."
"Faun spoiled me! She helped us sell our house on a very tight schedule. Faun totally exceeded our expectations with her professionalism. After working with Faun it has been very difficult working with any other realtor. Throughout our interactions Faun exhibited the following qualities: true professionalism,, knowledge,, resourcefulness,, competence,, reliability,, ethics,, honesty,, along with graceful demeanor no matter what the situation. Faun is a joy to work with."
"Faun's impressive resume and qualifications led us to select her as our selling agent and we are happy to report that she exceeded our expectations by successfully negotiating the sale of our home. The house was a very extensively modified historic structure with very non-standard layout and features making it a unique selling challenge. Faun accepted the challenge enthusiastically and made practical suggestions to enhance the attractiveness of the home to a targeted market. We followed her suggestions and realized a better return on our investment than we thought possible. The buyer's agent created some difficult situations and challenges that were well beyond our expertise and Faun guided us through them with a tenacity,, flexibility and dedication that only a person of her unique talents and abilities could provide. We highly recommend her thoughtful,, targeted approach to selling,, On a more personal note,, Faun took the time to get to know us and fully understand our situation and expectations and worked very hard to help us achieve our goal. In the process,, she made two loyal friends. If you are looking to sell or buy a home -- hire this woman! You won't regret it."
"I worked with Faun in selling and buying a home. We had very tight deadlines and with her expertise she was able to meet every one. In selling my home she advised on staging (even helped me pick up items needed) and got top dollar for it. She negotiated extremely aggressively on both the sale and purchase of the homes. I wouldn't hesitate to contact Faun in the future. She's helping other family members with the purchase of their next home. Highly recommend her."
"An educated agent is a must! Faun proved this assertion to us in April 2013 when she sold our house at a very agreeable price with fewer concessions to the buyers than we were expecting. I can't express how pleased we were to list our house on a Tuesday night and have a full price offer in hand by Sunday (and we thought we were priced aggressively,, I might add). Here's the key: do what she tells you to do with the property! If Faun wants you to take down a painting,, take it down. We put some elbow grease into the house before we listed and we staged it to her specifications. You can't argue with a full price offer inside a week and a 30 day clean close. She'd be our real estate professional for life if she'd just get her North Carolina license!"Read More
"Faun and I participated in a very complicated Real Estate Transaction. She was always professional, very dependable and easy to work with. I can't recommend her highly enough."
- Venator Properties Llc
"Faun was wonderful to work with. She was in constant communication with us throughout a very long and difficult process to purchase a residence that was a short sale with multiple liens on it. There were multiple situations where her exemplary problem solving skills were put to the test,, and she always got it done."
"Faun did an incredible job of marketing my mother's home as we worked to settle her estate. This was a difficulty time for the family and Faun handled it with sesitivity and made it a lot easier that it otherwise might have been. Of course,, it didn't hurt that her expert advice concerning preparation and marketing resulted in an immediate sale. The only reason she only gets five stars is because they don't offer six as an option."
"Sadly, the circumstances under which I met Faun were due to a possible foreclosure. However,, because of Faun's experience with short sales and her tenacity, we were able to do a short sale and get some money out of the home sale. Faun calls herself the queen of short sales for a reason. She has enough of them under her belt so that she understands the system and how to proceed in a timely manner. That being said,, Faun didn't help us for the handsome commission that she would attain. She helped us because she felt really bad that good people go through bad times and can lose everything. Her compassion for our situation will never be forgotten. Definitely make the decision to use Faun as your real estate broker!!! You will be in great hands!"
"Faun spent many hours with me and my girlfriend touring houses in the Denver area. We probably saw at least 50 different properties,, and she was very patient and professional throughout that process. She not only followed my stated wishes on price range,, type of house and location,, but she also was able to anticipate houses I might like. When we found the house I wanted to buy,, she worked very hard negotiating a good price with a very difficult seller. I selected her after interviewing several other recommended brokers. She brings the whole package of experience,, knowledge and professionalism."
"Faun is exactly the type of Realtor you want on your side. I'm going to be blunt here, and I hope Faun takes what I'm about to say the right way. When we went to seek a Realtor to sell our townhouse,, we interviewed two Realtors. We thought the gentleman we met with was very nice. We met Faun and she was all business - she made no bones about telling us what we needed to change in our house to help it sell, told us what we should expect to receive in a sale,, etc. She definitely was not there to be our friend. After much discussion, we opted for Faun because we believed when it came down to negotiations and getting through all the pitfalls that can and will happen in a real estate transaction, nice was nice but we wanted someone who was a pit bull. Faun put a lot of time, energy and expense into selling our townhouse,, and when she sold it, it was during the bottom of the housing recession in Denver. We couldn't have picked a worse time to put our home up for sale. Faun put the best face possible on our property. She brought in a film crew to take both still photos and create a movie presentation. The brochures were slick and high-quality. When our brochure holder was empty,, Faun made sure it was filled back up. The webpage she set up for us was top-notch. While it did take almost eight months to sell our property (which,, considering the market and all the foreclosures/short sales in our neighborhood that were harming us), Faun did about as great a job as possible. She stood by us the whole time and provided great advice, including recommending that we pass on the first offer, proving she was more interested in doing what was right by her customer than making an easy commission. If you've read this far and you think I've suggested Faun is not nice, you'd be mistaken. She just doesn't do business from the standpoint of wanting to be your buddy and tell you what you want to hear. She does it as a serious businesswoman, she tells you what you need to hear. I'd absolutely hire her again if we found ourselves back in Denver looking to buy or sell a home."
5 STAR PROFESSIONAL
7 Years in a Row
Five Star Professional conducts market research to define and promote professional excellence in the professions we serve. The Five Star designation assists consumers in selecting a service professional based on an objective research methodology tailored to the specific profession. Five Star Professional joins forces with local and national media partners to publish our research to consumers and promote Five Star-designated professionals in more than 45 markets across the United States.